Belle Vernon’s Sassak ignites the boys’ football team

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Sunday September 26, 2021 | 5:43 p.m.


In the fall, Daniel Sassak likes to add noise and school spirit to the student section of Belle Vernon during football, women’s soccer and women’s volleyball matches.

The rest of the time, the eldest gives this same section of students something to celebrate during the boys’ football matches.

Like that momentous game against Trinity earlier this season when he scored the game-winning goal in a long-lasting 2-1 game on Saturday night at the James Weir Stadium.

His thrilling score was like turf: golden.

“There was a corner kick, far from the back post,” Sassak said. “I hit him in the top 18 and I settled in, I (nut) megged the kid and I hit the kick and watched him go down the bar. I ran on the sidelines and celebrated with the student section.

“It was one of the best three I have ever scored.”

Holder since his first season, Sassak has become a formidable threat from the midfielder or from the top of the training. The gifted scorer, who has 11 goals this season and 81 in his career, will be one of the best in the program.

He’s on the high school All-American watchlist and is nominated for a National All-Star Game.

“I live close to him and I can see the goal in his backyard,” Belle Vernon coach Al Yeschenko said. “I have two first grade boys, so I started following Daniel from middle school to high school. The thing with him is, I don’t think he’s peaked yet.

Yeschenko was an assistant last year before taking over after Rob Miele resigned. He knew he was inheriting Sassak, the centerpiece of another talented team.

“He’s just a really good quality kid to train,” Yeschenko said. “He speaks softly and is very polite to the staff and wants to learn. You don’t see some of the biggest goal scorers acting like that.

Sassak, who has multiple two-goal and hat-trick games this year, has eight scores in freshman, 29 in sophomore and 33 in junior.

Markello Apodiakos, now at Duquesne, has the school record for career goals with 89.

“Markello was someone I admired,” Sassak said. “He was in all the states in his freshman year, which was my freshman year. I want to do what he did.

That, with a caveat: “I want to be the school’s first 100-goal scorer,” Sassak said.

“I want to lead our guys, even though they’re in my same class,” Sassak said. “I want them to take some after me.”

Yeschenko said the winner against Trinity was the jewel of the field in terms of goals for Sassak.

“We saw how the game was going, so we wanted to make him work in 10-minute shifts,” Yeschenko said. “We put him down so he would be ready later in the game.”

The charged battery illuminated the dashboard and the crowd.

“You could see from his face that it was a special moment for him,” Yeschenko said.

Sassak is also happy that the Leopards have a clean slate after a heart-wrenching 2-1 loss to Indiana in the first round of Class 3A WPIAL. Another playoff race is high on his priority list.

“I want the boys to be happy again,” he said. “This is the last year we have. There is no more season if we lose (in the playoffs). No more, ‘one more game.’ “

One thing Yeschenko said that Sassak has become proficient is attracting a host of defenders, which has allowed his teammates to find scoring opportunities.

In eight games, the Leopards have scored goals by 12 players.

“Say”, as they call him, started playing football at the age of 10. His uncle, Jimmy O’Toole, and O’Toole’s sons, Ryan and Matt, are from Germany, where the game is all the rage. They now live in York.

Another family tie keeps Sassak motivated. Her grandfather, Albert “Sonny” Forgas, died in 2016 after a six-month battle with ALS.

“He was always at my matches,” Sassak said.

Surprisingly, Sassak doesn’t have colleges lined up to land him. While male soccer players often commit later in their senior seasons, Sassak is only interested in Division III, including Pitt-Greensburg.

Sassak has been playing football since Century, but the team has split up. The team reached the national semi-finals in the spring.

The word “dynamic” has been used to describe Sassak, as another senior sports star from Belle Vernon to Devin Whitlock.

If the football team has a player like Whitlock, it’s Sassak.

“Devin is just amazing to watch,” Sassak said. “Some things he does, it blows your mind. He makes guys stupid.

When not playing, Sassak hones his basics as a youth football referee.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a writer for Tribune-Review. You can contact Bill by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

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